Splatoon 3: Is It Worth Buying?

Well, this is a needle I didn’t expect to have to thread.

Splatoon 3 has been out for a couple of weeks now, and yet the debate swirling around the game continues to be about its necessity rather than its quality. With the Switch only in the middle of its lifespan and Splatoon 2 already being available for the console, did we really need Splatoon 3 now? This has spawned the usual counterarguments about how the core Splatoon formula was already solid and wouldn’t/shouldn’t get drastic changes, and how many badly-needed quality-of-life changes S3 brought to the table, and how the S2 meta was a mess by the end and needed a total rework, and around and around it goes. So who’s right here?

Honestly, I think the answer is “all of the above.”

Does Splatoon 3 need to exist? Absolutely not: The game provides essentially the exact same experience as Splatoon 2 does, and had we not gotten this “threequel,” I would have been completely happy chugging along with Splatoon 2 for a few more years. However, “is it necessary?” and “is it worth buying?” are two very different questions, and since the game does exist, the minor tweaks and changes it makes makes Splatoon 3 the definitive version of the game as the current time. If you weren’t interested in or didn’t like Splatoon 2, there’s nothing here to excite you about Splatoon 3, but if you had fun with the first two games or find all of this ink-slinging intriguing, Splatoon 3 is still worth exploring.

That is the face of someone who’s just happy the Undercover Brella is back.

First, let’s address my biggest complaint about Splatoon 3, a problem that’s cropped up in several of Nintendo’s recent releases: There’s a noticeable lack of polish here, as if the game had to be rushed to meet a deadline despite missing its expected summer window. For example, consider the game’s network setup: Frequent connection errors have always been a meme in this franchise, but in my time with the game I’ve found the connection to be far less stable than Splatoon 2 despite a similarly-powerful connection (Side note: I’m one of roughly 8 people left in the world that hasn’t gotten screwed over by Comcast yet). There are also moments when the game stutters noticeably and consistently, especially when you’re entering the battle lobby (the player’s animation takes a few seconds before it starts running smoothly). There are several game modes that seem like no-brainer Day-1 additions (league battles, X rank, online play in Tableturf matches) that won’t arrive until an unspecified future update. It seems like Nintendo has gone overboard with pushing content into future updates, and it’s led to games feeling unfinished at launch (Mario Strikers: Battle League) and even prematurely abandoned (Super Mario Maker 2, Mario Golf: Super Rush). Given Splatoon 3‘s massive launch sales, I don’t think the developers are going to push the game to the back of the closet anytime soon, but I would have been perfectly content waiting months (or even years) to get a fully-featured game at launch.

So what is here? Well, Turf War returns, and it’s just as chaotic and exciting as ever. Just as in Splatoon 2, teams of four players have three minutes to cover as much ground as possible with their own ink, with whoever gets the most ink down getting crowned the winner at the end. The initial map rotation has been drawn from all three games (5 new, 4 from S2, 3 from S1), and some of them have been reworked significantly (seriously, Mahi-Mahi Resort is completely unrecognizable). With the caveat that I haven’t gotten to play the new Hammerhead Bridge yet (that map was terrible in S1), most of the maps here sit somewhere in the mushy middle for me: The only one I really like is Mincemeat Metalworks, and the only one I can’t stand is Museum d’Alfonsino (which is weird, because I never minded that map in S1 and it looks almost exactly the same). Players enter a map via a new airborne spawning system that lets you choose where to rejoin the action, but the reachable area is so limited (with good reason; you shouldn’t be able to spawn in the middle of the map whenever you want) that it feels pointless, and adds extra steps and button presses to what was an automatic process in the first two games. The Squid Roll and Squid Surge provide some extra movements options to avoid enemy fire, but I haven’t seen any players (myself included) take advantage of them yet, so I imagine it will be another month or so before we really see how they impact the game.

The impact of the shuffled special weapons is more apparent, and the general trend from S2 and S3 is to make these weapons more local and less powerful. Where S1 featured invincibility specials like Krakens and Bubblers and S2 was defined by global and/or long-ranged specials like Ink Armors, Stingrays and Tenta Missiles, Splatoon 3 is determined to up the risk factor of specials by forcing you closer to the action and providing a weakness for other players to exploit. (The one exception to this rule remains Tenta Missiles, although they don’t have quite the firepower they once did.) Zipcasters and Inkjets can be shot out of the air, Crab Tanks and Ultra Stamps are vulnerable to flanks, Tacticoolers require teammates to be in the immediate vicinity to get a boost (remote work won the battle IRL, but Tacticoolers still demand that you show up in-person), Big Bubblers and Wave Breakers can be destroyed by enemy fire, and so on. These weapons still pack a punch when skillfully deployed (Ink Vacs in particular can be very tricky to approach), but there are no get-out-of-jail-free or panic button weapons to pull yourself out of an impossible situation.

Ony one new sub weapon was introduced in S3 (the Angle Shooter, basically a Point Sensor with longer-but-narrower range), but two new classes of main weapons joined the party as well: Stringers (bows) and Splatanas (melee weapons similar to brushes). Both of the base weapons of the class have some interesting/distinctive features (the Tri-Stringer shots will explode a few moments after impact if charged enough, the Splatana Wiper has some incredible speed and mobility while swinging), and I generally enjoyed trying them out during the World Premiere Splatfest. The Splatana Stamper and REEF-LUX 450 don’t seem quite as distinct, but they’ve got solid kits that get them a lot of attention of the battlefield. In terms of the weapons as a whole, the current balance isn’t exactly balanced right now (that sound you hear is Nintendo preparing to nerf the Sloshing Machine into the ground), but at least non-shooter classes appear to be more viable right now, and that’s a step in the right direction. While not every weapon will click for new players right out of the gate (chargers in particular require a lot of time and patience to master), there’s something for darn near every kind of playstyle available, so you can try things out and see what works best for you.

(Of course, Undercover Brellas remain as meta as ever. 🙂

In terms of other battle modes, all three ranked modes from Splatoon 2 return(plus Clam Blitz, which I still refuse to consider as an actual mode), but the format is a bit different this time around. “Anarchy Battles” (the new name for ranked matches” are split into Open and Series modes: Open matches can be played with teams of friends, but Series matches are strictly solo and demand that you win five matches before you lose three to progress. It’s not quite the Turf-War-esque model that freed you from the anxiety of rank maintenance that I wanted (and the fact that ranks drop automatically every three months doesn’t help matters either), so while this is where the hardcore competitive players will gravitate, I’ll likely stick mostly to Turf Wars as I always have.

One more thing I’ve noticed: There’s a lot more space in the Splatoon 3 hubs and lobbies than in previous games, but right now most of this room feels empty and wasted. The hub world is massive, but many of the explorable paths feel pointless or redundant, and you can get lost in a series of passages to nowhere. The matchmaking lobby is finally playable after two games of staring at a static screen, but it’s just a couple of inflatable bad guys and a stationary robot who can shoot back at you (not to mention an upstairs cafe-like area that doesn’t serve any purpose at all), and by your fifth match you’re just setting your controller down and walking away in from the screen between matches like you always have. It adds more weight to that lack of polish and that feeling that the game is incomplete, and it does so unnecessarily.

Salmon Run falls into the same category as the ink battles: The stages, weapons, and bosses may have changed, but by and large the mode remains the same as in Splatoon 2: You beat down the baddies, you collect the Golden Eggs, you stick them in the basket, and you try to hit your quota within the allotted time. Throwing eggs and using Egg Cannons to launch them towards the basket is a useful addition, and becomes a big plus when you’re stuck with a team that loves to overextend itself (at least they can toss the eggs back now to make them easier to collect). It’s a fun diversion from the adversarial multiplayer modes, and has enough satisfying strategic depth to keep you coming back.

The single-player campaign tries to combine the tutorial gameplay from the Hero Modes of Splatoon and Splatoon 2 with the specialized challenges found in the Octo Expansion DLC, and it mostly succeeds in this regard. Some of the challenges can be frustrating (riding rails with a Slosher is not my idea of a good time) or pointless (so…I just have to cover a giant statue in ink? That’s the whole level?), but this was true of some of the Octo Expansion levels as well, and some of the levels can be super fun (especially ones where you have infinite time with specials like the Zipcaster and Crab Tank, and you can just mess around with them as you bounce across the level). The boss battles I’ve played so far have felt a little tired compared to those found in Splatoon 2, but admittedly I haven’t gotten to the endgame stuff yet, so there may be more secrets in store.

Dang, Fresh Callie and Diamond Machado? Now that’s what I call a pull!

The new game mode here is Tableturf Battles, and while it’s a far, far, far cry from Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, it’s an fun little game that can be a nice change of pace between Ink Battles. Tableturf Battles are turn-based affairs where players play cards that correspond to different shapes, with each shape taking up space on a grid. Generally you can’t play cards that overlap with squares you or your opponent have already covered (there are some exceptions involving “special weapons,” but that’s a longer discussion), and the goal is to cover more squares on the grid with your color than your opponent—you know, just like a turf war! It’s the sort of game that’s just begging for a competitive scene to overanalyze it and put a restrictive meta in place, but at this point it’s just a 1-player game vs. the CPU. It’s a decent idea, but to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, “Senator, you’re no Salmon Run.”

Let’s close by talking about the new customization option that the game provides for players to express themselves. On top of the new hair/eyebrow/pants options (even your little Smallfry Salmonid buddy can sport a fresh hairdo), players can now customize the look of their “splashtags” (name tags with strange titles and varied background) and their “lockers” (a small space where you can stash and arrange all sorts of weapons, cosmetics, and random stuff). It’s all a great idea, and people are putting together some really interesting and intricate designs…but surprisingly, none of these options seems to resonate with me: My splashtag remains the default background and title, and my locker is empty save for a single Undercover Brella (because only the things that matter go in there). The inclusion of the seasonal catalogs is a step towards MLB The Show 22‘s programs, but I’m not sure it’s enough to keep players engaged (especially when the game isn’t terribly up front about what rewards you’re playing for). The custom victory animations flop unexpectedly hard as well: You have to watch the winners dance regardless of if you win or lose (which can be a little tilting after a close loss), and even if you win, sitting through each animation takes forever, and I find myself tapping my foot impatiently and checking my watch like I’m waiting for a Sam Hunt song to end. Much like 75% of Nashville’s output in 2022, there are a lot of people who enjoy these options, but they’re just kind of “meh” to me.

So where does all of this leave us? Honestly, it leaves us in the same place that Splatoon 2 (and the last few PokĂ©mon entries) did: Despite Tableturf Battles being a new mode, it’s not a very expansive one (yet), so we’re left with the same ink battles and salmon running that we’ve all been doing up to this point. If you were happy with this gameplay loop in S2, then you won’t (and shouldn’t) think twice about the $60 price tag, because this is a mechanical fine-tuning of the series that streamlines much of the process (even if the game doesn’t always run smoothly). New players who are curious about the series should probably start with S3 as well, as most of the aggravating wrinkles have been ironed out of the series by now. If Splatoon didn’t appeal to you before, however, there’s nothing in the latest version that grabs you by the collar and demands that you try it out. Splatoon 3 is Splatoon 2 Deluxe at its core, and as long as that’s enough for you, you’ll have fun with the game.

Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about this conclusion. Splatoon has always prided itself on being fresh, but this game feels a little staler than it should. I sunk almost 3,000 hours into Splatoon 2 and even created a few YouTube videos using the game, but the game’s magic really started to fade in 2022 as Nintendo’s release schedule swelled and other standout titles vied for my attention. (As of right now, I would unironically rank Splatoon 3 as my #3 game of the year behind MLB The Show 22 and Triangle Strategy.) After spending so much time racking up stats and hours in S2, I’m just not that enthused about replicating the whole process in S3.

However, if there’s any series that could change my mind about this sort of thing, it’s Splatoon. Like any addiction, every time I think I’ve finally broken free of its grasp, its satisfying, endlessly-replayable game loop reels me right back in. Only time will tell how this game will compare to its short- and long-term competition, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned for the last seven years, it’s to never count out a game or a series that’s this tough.

My Reaction To The September 2022 Nintendo Direct

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It’s a statement that feels very appropriate when discussing Nintendo’s latest Direct, which dropped earlier in the week with little notice. With what’s been a loaded 2022 nearly in the books and many of Nintendo’s franchises already represented on the Switch, the questions now were simple:

  • What will 2023 look like?
  • What long-languishing franchises will finally make their debut on the Switch?
  • What long-awaited game would finally get a release date?

Nintendo still has a lot of franchises sitting in mothballs (F-Zero, Pikmin, Star Fox, Mario Baseball, etc.), and it’s got several games that have been saddled with ‘TBA’ release dates for several years (notably Metroid Prime 4 and Breath of the Wild 2). After a solid year, how could Nintendo possibly follow it up?

Well…for the most part, Nintendo and the third parties that develop for it appear to be doubling down on what’s been working for them up to this point: More old games and remasters, more RPGs for a system that’s already taken the 3DS’s title as the RPG console, more life sims looking to draft behind Animal Crossing’s runaway success, and in the end, not much more. This Direct lacked the big surprise that we’ve come to expect from the Big N, and games that we’ve known so little about for so long didn’t get a ton of screentime. There was a lot here for game enthusiasts, but not much for hardcore first-party devotees, and I think this approach annoyed as many people as it satisfied. Personally, I saw a lot of stuff that will make a lot of people happy, but little of it actually resonated with me. It was just okay in my eyes, and if I’m honest, I’m okay with okay given that Splatoon 3 just came off the burner.

My specific thoughts on the Direct are as follows:

  • There’s been a lot of chatter about whether Splatoon 3 was really necessary when it plays so similarly to Splatoon 2, and honestly that was the first thought I had when I saw Fire Emblem Engage (which is coming a mere three years after FE: Three Houses, and only about six months after FE Warriors: Three Hopes). Engage is more along the lines of the main tactical RPG games, but its focus on bringing back heroes from past FE games makes me wonder if its own story (which felt a bit generic on its face) will be strong enough to stand on its own. It didn’t catch my attention the way Three Houses did, so I’m not sure whether or not I’ll take a chance on it next January.
  • I’ve joked for a while that the Switch’s goal is to has every game ever made on it, and this Direct was a giant leap in that direction: It Takes Two, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, Tunic, Front Mission 1-3, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, Rune Factory 3, Factorio, Ib, Resident Evil Village, Tales of Symphonia…It’s a solid move to try and broaden the console’s appeal and widen its fanbase, but I think it limits the sizzle of the presentation (even if they’re remastered, these are games we’ve seen and played before). None of these interested me all that much, but I think the play here is towards smaller niche fanbases that might still be on the fence for a Switch.
  • I just got the bill for my Nintendo Switch Online service today, and while it’s a small price to pay for Splatoon 3 online access, I still don’t feel like service has managed to justify its asking price, especially the Expansion Pass. We got a whole bunch of N64 game announcements in this presentation, and frankly they felt both sparse and underwhelming. I mean, how many versions of Mario Party are we going to play (and is this a tacit admission that the franchise took a turn for the worst with later releases)? Are PokĂ©mon Stadium 1 and 2 even worth playing if you can’t use your own monsters? I’m glad that Goldeneye 007 is coming to the system (it was a rare third-party game that defined a console), but I was never that interested in it back in the day—1080 Snowboarding is really the only game that interests me here. Combine this with a mobile app that includes functionality for all of four games (two of which are Splatoon), and Nintendo’s online services still feel like a cash grab with little benefit.
  • The NFL and country music may be copycat leagues, but gaming can be just as bad sometimes, and you could tell that Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been on the minds of a lot of game developers lately (and you could probably toss Stardew Valley in there as well), and given that the Switch continues to be the RPG console, the hot trend appears to be mashing these two genres together to watch the sparks fly and the crops grow. In addition to Story of Seasons, we saw Fae Farm, Harvestella, and Various Daylife join the party, and while they try to add more story and depth to the AC formula, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what differentiated each one. This feels like a situation similar to what Mario Kart faced recently, where a bunch of rival developers tried to cash in and provide a fresh experience in the distant wake of a release (Chocobo GP, Disney Speedstorm, etc. For what it’s worth, Disney Speedstorm made a brief appearance here as well). It sort of feels like everyone’s throwing something at the wall and hoping that it’s their game that winds up sticking, but it’s too early to tell whether any of these will be worth investigating.
  • Speaking of Mario Kart: We got a couple of DLC announcements here as well, with a few tracks from Wave 3 of MK8’s Booster Pass getting shown off (I can’t speak to Merry Mountain, but I liked Peach Gardens in MK Wii) joining announcements for Xenoblade Chronicles 3‘s second wave, Mario Strikers: Battle League‘s second set of new characters, and golf for Nintendo Switch Sports. Again, these seem like decent additions to each game, but there’s nothing on the level of, say, Octo Expansion for Splatoon 2, so I think the presentation hype levels took a hit as a result. (I have to admit, I’d forgotten Mario Strikers: Battle League even existed; I fear that the game is going the way of Mario Golf: Super Rush, but maybe I’m just not plugged in to that community enough. Sadly, I think Nintendo Switch Sports is already irrelevant, and golf is coming too late to save it…)
  • Look, I love Kirby and I understand that it’s his 30th anniversary, but did we really need another Kirby game on a console that’s already got Kirby Star Allies and Kirby and the Forgotten Land (the latter of which came out just six months ago; that one got kicked to the curb fast), not to mention Kirby’s Dream Buffet and fifteen other minor games and remakes? The market for the pink puffball feels a little oversaturated right now, and while Kirby’s Return To Dream Land Deluxe takes us back to classic 2D gameplay (as opposed to the ‘not quite 3D’ setup of Forgotten Land), I’m just not sure that this game is necessary with the number of Kirby platformers that we’ve already got. Couldn’t this time have been better spent on a different franchise?
  • Speaking of different franchises: Metroid Prime 4 was once again absent from this presentation, and at this point it’s fair to ask if the game is ever coming out (maybe it’ll be the Star Fox 2-type game thrown in when the Switch mini releases in 2040). The only long-suffering franchise that was thrown a bone this time around was Pikmin, but there wasn’t much to gnaw on: Pikmin Bloom was released and forgotten on mobile devices last year, and Pikmin 4 was relegated to a few seconds of environmental footage and a logo shot that felt a little too similar to that MP4 tease we got in 2017. The release date is just 2023 for now, but I’ll believe the game is really coming when I see it. At least Bayonetta 3 has a release date and a more-complete presentation…
  • The final announcement for the day was saved for Breath of the Wild 2, now officially known as The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom. I was all set for a fully-loaded presentation showing a lot of what the game had to offer…and instead we got 20 seconds of three or four gameplay, half of which just showed Link falling through the sky. I know the release date is next May, but we’ve known about this game for so long now, and to see so little after all this time was more than a little disappointing.
  • Gosh Kyle, was there anything you actually liked here? Believe it or not, there was! Specifically, I was happy to see Mario + Rabbids: Sparks Of Hope and Octopath Traveler II, as I really enjoyed both of the original games. I actually like some of the chances Ubisoft is taking with the M+R:SoH gameplay, and I think they will lead to some very interesting battles and lots of strategic thought. OT2 appears to be more of a by-the-book sequel, and given that I wasn’t thrilled with the lack of a cohesive ending in OT (though apparently there was one if you wandered around enough to find it), I’m hoping that the characters and stories in OT2 are a coupled together a bit more tightly.

In the end, there was nothing that I was super aggravated about, but there was very little that I was impressed with either. This Direct lacked the star power of its predecessors, and given how good these presentations have been lately, this one didn’t measure up to a lot of people’s standards. The proof will be in the pudding, of course, but our first look at the menu wasn’t terribly appetizing. Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of 2022 leftovers to tide me over. 🙂

My Thoughts on the Splatoon 3 Splatfest World Premiere

Image from iMore

Seriously, it’s more Splatoon. How bad could it be?

Longtime followers of the blog (and my Twitter account) know that I’ve been absolutely addicted to Splatoon 2. I’ve sunk nearly 3,000 hours into the game, I’ve got X ranks in all three ranked modes (and Clam Blitz, which I still refuse to acknowledge as an actual mode), and I recently hit my goal of getting 100 multiplayer victories with 100 different weapons. Yes, I have my gripes with the game like any good Splatoon diehard (dodging a team’s worth of Tenta Missiles gets old after a while), but the fundamental gameplay was solid enough to keep me coming back, even as 2022 delivered excellent titles such as Triangle Strategy and MLB The Show 22.

Because of this, you would expect hardcore fans like myself to be positively giddy over the imminent release of the next game in the Splatoon series, Splatoon 3. However, while I’m certainly excited for the game, I’d also say that excitement is more measured than I expected, and my feelings seem to be far more positive than those of the Internet in general (seriously, where is all this nitpicking coming from?). Even after a great Direct presentation, the Splatoon doubters continued making a lot of noise, meaning that the question of whether or not the game was good/fun/necessary would have to wait until we all got to play it for ourselves.

The proof is in the pudding, and we got our first taste of said pudding last weekend with the Splatoon 3 Splatfest World Premiere, a 12-hour beta test to determine whether rock, paper, or scissors would claim supremacy in their eternal struggle. I spent about 4 hours with the game on Saturday (and I have the footage to prove it; hopefully that means a new YouTube video soon!), and while I didn’t get to try everything, I certainly had enough time to get a good feel for the game.

So what is my Splatfest verdict? Honestly, it’s the same as my PokĂ©mon verdicts: Splatoon 3 is Splatoon, no more and no less, and I don’t see it changing too many opinions on the franchise that hardened over the Splatoon 2 era. If you liked S2, you’ll like S3, and if you didn’t like S2, there’s not much here to change your mind.

My specific thoughts on the game are as follows:

  • I’ve heard some top-tier players gush over improvements they felt in S3‘s motion controls, but I honestly didn’t feel much of a difference during my time with the game. (Then again, I never felt any difference between S1 and S2 either, so maybe I’m just unobservant.) However, I did try out a few aim-dependent weapons and had some marginally better luck landing shots than usual, so maybe that’s what they’re talking about? I dunno, it was a “six of one, half-dozen of the other” feeling for me.
  • I played for the first four hours of the event, which let me try out three new maps (Eeltail Alley, Undertow Spillway, and Mincemeat Metalworks) and one returning map (Museum D’Alfonsino). Of the four, I think Mincemeat Metalworks was my favorite, despite some striking similarities to the old Hammerhead Bridge: Going from the bridge to the bottom level was easy and convenient, the bridge provided a nice chokepoint to get the opposing team from getting to far into your base, and the layout provided plenty of room for battle with enough cover and varied terrain thrown in to make things interesting/strategic. Eeltail Alley was okay (the top route was harder to access and never seemed to be that useful anyway), and Undertow Spillway was fine (I found I didn’t like the way the raised ground in the middle split the map in half), and I wouldn’t mind seeing those show up again in my map rotations. Museum D’Alfonsino, however, was awful: The battlefield felt a bit more cramped than in S1, and the rotating platforms made it way too easy to infiltrate the enemy base, which meant you spent at least half the game chasing people away from your spawn point. Here’s hoping they make some of those spinning platform walls un-inkable before they release the game, because that was not a fun experience. (I also see that Mahi-Mahi Resort is taking a lot of heat online, and I can’t speak to that from personal experience, I really hope this isn’t a trend with the returning S1 maps. Don’t make me regret asking for Flounder Heights back!)
  • Normal Splatfest battles work the same way as they always did, except that there are now two potential teams that you might get matched up against (…okay, three teams: You can still get matched up against your own team if there aren’t enough available adversaries). I didn’t realize that Tri-Color battles didn’t unlock until halfway through the Splatfest, so I never got to try them out. Really, the only thing I can say about the battle setup is that I’m not thrilled with the victory animation sequence: You see the winners go through their emotes even if you lose, which seems like it could be a bit tilting after a hard-fought match.
  • I made sure to try out the new weapon classes during the Splatfest, and I was pleasantly surprised by both of them. The Tri-Stringer can take some getting used to, but it has just enough inking power to be of use in a Turf War, and while I didn’t get a ton of one-hit KOs with it, its three shots and exploding projectiles do enough damage to combo well with other weapons (I racked up some major assist numbers with it), and I was able to fend off enemies even at point-blank range. The Splatana Wiper was way more mobile than I expected it to be, and I found it to have decent range even without using the charge shot. It’s got no ink coverage and it’s one of those ZR-spam weapons that I generally hate, but I found the glass-cleaning experience much more enjoyable than I thought I would. Overall, I think both weapons will be solid additions to the Splatoon arsenal. (Sadly, the Undercover Brella was not available for use during the Splatfest, so we’ll have to wait and see how that turns out. The vanilla kit looks like a combination of the vanilla and Sorella kits from S2, so that’s promising…)
  • So what about the returning weapons? I played five of them, and three of them (Splattershot Jr., N-Zap ’85, and Dynamo Roller) felt about the same despite the new specials (which is good, because they were all awesome already). The Aerospray MG felt a bit slower overall and the kit didn’t feel good at all: Fizzy Bombs are a lot weaker than Suction Bombs, and Reefslider could put you in really bad spots if you weren’t careful, as opposed to its OP curling bomb rush from before. The Luna Blaster, however, felt really powerful and will probably see a nerf sooner rather than later (Zipcaster takes some time to get used to and requires you to pre-plan your route, but being able to quickly rush someone down with a potential one-hit KO in your pocket was intoxicating). If the RNG of blaster shots has really been reduced as some folks claim, expect to see them a lot in the early meta.
  • On the whole, I liked the new specials that I got to try out. The Big Bubbler felt like a slightly-larger version of the Bubble from Splatoon, and you could absolutely use it as a trap card to lure opponents into bad positions, but you had to be very careful not to stray outside its protective shield after you used it. Tacticooler felt a little overpowered in its initial form (that respawn buff is huge), but I liked how it made you think strategically about where to put the cooler so that your teammates could take advantage of it. Reefslider is the Baller replacement that we all expected, but it can leave you in a vulnerable position if you don’t take out your opponent with the blast, so you need to be more careful with it than the Baller (which was a good panic button special to get you out of a tough spot). Killer Wail 5.1 didn’t seem any more impactful than Killer Wail 1.0 ever did, but it certainly did get folks moving when it appeared. Both Zipcaster and Ink Vacuum felt more awkward to use than I expected (you had to know what walls you could reach with the former, and you had to take care that you were in a safe spot when the latter stopped absorbing enemy ink), but I think having a bit more time with both of them in the main game will help players get their bearings. (I’ve never really liked the Ultra Stamp, but it was no more frustrating to me than it was in S2, so at least they haven’t made it worse.)
  • I actually think the airborne spawning mechanism in S3 is a downgrade from previous games. I don’t like having to press ZR to leave the spawn (gotta work on the muscle memory for that), and I found the landing area to be pretty limited and your choice of landing spot to be inconsequential. Unless more maps are going to let you spawn camp like on Museum D’Alfonsino (plz no), the whole thing feels pretty unnecessary.
  • I found the menu system for the Splatfest battles to be pretty clunky and less intuitive than its predecessors—there were too many moving parts that felt unnecessary (seriously, why does forming Splatfest teams with your friends require you to move to a second menu?). The test range is bigger and now gives you something to do in between matches, but it gets old pretty quickly and eventually I ended up setting the controller down and walking away to do other things just like I do with Splatoon 2. However, there were a few open spaces that appear to serve some purpose but were inactive for this demo, so maybe you’ll have more options in the full game.

At the end of the day, this was a recognizable Splatoon experience, and I had fun trying out the new additions that the demo offered. Was it all enough to answer the loaded question of “justifying” a new version of Splatoon, as the World Wide Web seems keen to answer? Honestly, I don’t think I can answer that: I think Splatoon 3 looks fine and that I’ll enjoy playing it, but I also think I would have been happy to just keep playing Splatoon 2 for another few years. I think Alex Olney from Nintendo Life hit the nail on the head: This is “evolutionary, but it’s not revolutionary,” and I don’t think this game will move anyone to grab a seat on the Splatoon bandwagon or give theirs up if they’re already on board (unless Table Turf battles are really good). The quality-of-life upgrades are nice and the new weapon options will be interesting to mess around with, but we mostly know what we’re signing up for, and if it didn’t interest you before, I don’t think it will interest you now.

Still, it does interest me, so expect to hear a lot more about this game in the coming months. The Splatlands are far more interesting than anything that mainstream country music has released lately…

Seven Things You Can Do To Succeed In Diamond Dynasty In MLB The Show 22

I’ve been on the road more than I’ve been off it this week, and I just don’t have it in me to take on Walker Hayes’s atrocious new single right now, so…let’s play ball!

As much as I enjoy MLB The Show 22, I have a dirty secret when it comes to the game: I am really bad at it. I had some credibility with a game like Triangle Strategy because I had a lot of success in it, but I don’t have the same sort of track record on the virtual diamond. So how do I write a post like this when I can’t practice what I preach consistently?

Actually, it’s quite simple: I have lost baseball games in every possible way over the last few months, and I’ve been able to identify a few common traits of successful teams,and even put a few of them into practice! Diamond Dynasty is a merciless mode, and players will come at you with entire teams of 95+ Diamond players featuring some of the most storied names of the game’s past and present. So what can you do to help tip the odds in your favor? Here are seven things you can do to put your best foot (and your best team) forward.

Dylan “Moore-6-3” Moore.

1. Use the Monthly Award programs to quickly build up a roster of Diamond-rated players. When you first start Diamond Dynasty, you’ll be given an initial roster made up of Silver, Bronze, and Common players…and you’ll immediately start facing Diamond-only lineups online. How do people get these cards so quickly, and what can you do to keep up? A great way to expand your options quickly are the Monthly Award programs, which offer a bunch of Gold & Diamond players as early rewards as you progress. You may have a lot of different positions to fill, but these players tend to be a pretty diverse group positionally, so you can usually find what you need to start filling the holes in your team.

David Ortiz, a.k.a. Big Papi, a.k.a. “You Can’t Catch My Fly Ball If I Hit It 500 Feet”

2. Prioritize power in your players above all else. If there’s one word that defines the Diamond Dynasty meta (and the meta of actual baseball, tbh), it’s power: Everybody in the opposing lineup can hit the ball a mile, and everybody in the opposing bullpen has a high-90s fastball in their pocket.

This evolution makes a lot of sense: The home run is the quickest and easiest way to score (no need to string hits/walks together, no need for aggressive baserunning, etc.), and players online have a really hard time catching up to triple-digit speed on the mound (thus you can get more strikeouts, limit baserunners, and ensure that any home runs hit are solo blasts). A power-laden lineup means that you’re always a threat to score and thus never out of any ballgame, while a power-laden rotation and bullpen means that you’ve always got an option if you really need a strike (just throw a fastball somewhere in the zone and dare the other player to hit it), and it’s going to be really hard for your opponent to come back if you’re leading.

When you’re starting to build your ultimate team, keep an eye on the Power stats for your hitters and the fastball/sinker velocities of your pitchers. These are great starting points for deciding who should fill different spots on your team.

Alec “The GOAT” Mills. (Image from MLB The Show)

3. When picking pitchers, look for large speed differentials in their arsenals. Hitting in both the big leagues and in MLB The Show requires exquisite timing, as connecting with the pitch as just the right moment will lead to the best result (in theory at least; Twitter is full of clips of ‘perfect’ flyouts to the warning track). Having an extra-cheesy heater is great, but the best way to keep hitters off-balance is to have a large difference in velocity between your pitches, forcing the hitter to choose between looking for you fast pitch and your slow pitch (because they’ll never hit both).

Take Alec Mills, a seemingly nondescript Bronze member of the Cubs organization that the game can’t seem to figure out what position to assign him (Starter? Reliever? They’ve been flip-flopped between both this season). This dude has been lights-out for me in Diamond Dynasty play, to the point where he’s challenging Triangle Strategy‘s Frederica Aesfrost as the best video game character I’ve used in 2022, and I’ve been racking my brain to figure out why this is. His speed differential is the most likely answer: His sinker and fastball are “meh” by the game’s standards (they might reach 90 mph), but he pairs it with a changeup and slider that rarely make it to 80 mph, as well as a nasty curveball that wouldn’t even get a speeding ticket on the interstate! Timing up a 90 mph fastball isn’t that hard, but timing up a 90 mph fastball while also trying to wait long enough to get your bat on a 68 mph curveball? It’s darn near impossible, and it’s probably why Mills flummoxes so many hitters online.

If Mills can succeed with such a middling arsenal, imagine trying to wait for Randy Johnson’s 83 mph slurve when you know his 100+ mph heater could be coming! Forcing your opponent to deal with such varied velocity forces them to either guess what pitch is coming or identify it really quickly (while also trying to figure out if it’s in the strike zone or not), which is not a great recipe for success.

Brett Phillips can sometimes hit right-handed pitching, but against lefties he might as well leave his bat in the dugout.

4. When picking hitters, make sure you lineup can take on both righties and lefties. Unlike the big leagues, you a) have no idea who’ll be starting the game against you, and b) have no idea who might be hiding in the opponent’s bullpen. Hitters have different Contact and Power attributes for left-handed and right-handed pitchers, so you’ll want to make sure your lineup can handle both lefties and righties adequately.

A good (albeit rough) heuristic for this is by having a balanced number of left-handed and right-handed hitters in your lineup. Hitters generally have more success against pitchers that throw from the opposite side (i.e., left-handed hitters are generally better against right-handed pitchers, and vice versa), so having a mix of lefties and righties in your lineup will help ensure that you’re prepared to face pitchers coming at you with either hand. (That said, there are some hitters, especially once you get to Diamond ratings, that are pretty good against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers, so pay close attention to the Contact and Power scores of each individual. Using switch hitters that can hit from either side of the plate can also make decisions easier.)

Another thing that can help is alternating different-handed hitters in your lineup: For example, if your leadoff hitter hits right-handed, have your #2 hitter hit left-handed, then have a right-handed hitter at #3, and so on. What this does is protect against the possibility of a reliever coming in and immediately having an advantage over several hitters in a row simply by being left- or right-handed. Players will try to take advantage of same-handed batters getting grouped together, so don’t give them that chance.

5. Play aginst the CPU. A lot. Triangle Strategy had mental mock battles, and MLB The Show 22 has the ‘Play vs. CPU’ option, letting you try out your Diamond Dynasty team against current MLB lineups. These games are great for a couple of reasons:

  • You can earn parallel XP from your games, which can help you progress through current Programs and potentially earn better player cards.
  • You can experiment with different players in a low-pressure setting, and sometimes find a hidden gem that you can then deploy in online matches. A player like Andres Sotillet (a 57-rated Common player) has absolutely no business on a Diamond Dyansty roster, yet the man is a fixture in my bullpen because his style just seems to mesh well with my pitch selections. Use these games to take some chances and find your own Sotillet for your team!
  • More importantly, you can hone your own hitting technique against quality competition, improving both your timing, your pitch recognition, and your plate discipline (identifying balls and strikes). That last one is probably the most important one: At the All-Star level, plate discipline is the biggest differentiator between the ‘just okay’ and ‘actually good’ players, so being able to quickly and correctly decide which pitches to swing at will go a long way towards finding success online.

So yeah, play the CPU early and often, and use that experience to prepare for higher-level competition on the Internet.

This card has 99 speed and 99 ‘steal,’ yet I’ve only managed to steal a single base with Berti. What’s the point?

6. Avoid running yourself out of an inning. Home runs might be the ideal end to an at-bat, but singles, doubles, triples, walks, and even getting hit by a pitch will improve your chances to score. However, I’ve found baserunning to be a very tricky proposition: You have to hold the steal button for a second or so before your player actually takes off, and if you’re too early, you’ll try to steal before the pitcher has even thrown the pitch. Even when you get the initial timing right, the jump you get never seems to be very good, and catchers will usually throw you out unless the other player is caught unaware (which is pretty rare considering the game has someone scream “Steal! Steal!” when you take off).

Given that a home run will score a baserunner no matter which base they’re on, there’s really no good reason to attempt to steal a base unless the circumstances are perfect (i.e., you have a super speedy baserunner and the opponent is too focused on the hitter). For the most part, you’re better off saving your outs for your at-bats.

It’s all fun and games until the submariners show up.

7. Diversify your bullpen to surprise your opponents. You’ll have eight roster spots dedicated to relievers, so your goal will be to have these pitchers overlap as little as possible, forcing your opponent to be ready for anything.

The easy angle is the left-handed/right-handed split: Since hitters generally struggle against same-side throwers, you’ll want to have a few options from either side to exploit these matchups. (Also, as we’ve discussed before, having a few arms with plus velocity is never a bad thing.) A less-exploited tactic, however, is a pitcher’s release point: Most pitches use overhand or three-quarter deliveries to throw the ball, but a few (like our friend Darren O’Day above) use sidearm or submarine motion that deliver the ball from a very different angle, and if your opponent doesn’t have a lot of experience against them, they can be tough to track and time up. It’s not a foolproof tactic, but I’ve gotten a surprising amount of quality from Bronze/Silver relievers with unorthodox throwing motions, and sometimes this can be the difference between winning and losing.

These tips may not guarantee victory in MLB The Show Diamond Dynasty matches (sometimes you’ll run up against that person with five Diamond 99 players in their lineup and get knocked out in the third inning by the mercy rule), but they’ll help get you started and give you a fighting chance against most any opponent you take on. Now get out there and play ball!

If all else fails…you can’t go wrong with putting a Kyle or four on your roster.

My Reaction to the Splatoon 3 Direct

(Editor’s Note: This week’s regularly-scheduled Pulse post has been pushed to Friday.)

We’re about a month away from the Sept. 9 release of Splatoon 3, and up to now information about the game had been fairly sparse, limited to a bunch of Twitter posts and a few minutes of previous Direct space. The dearth of information had brought to mind a quote I half-remember from an old PSA, something along the lines of “People tend to assume the worst if you don’t tell them you really care,” because the hot topic in the Splatoon community for the last month has been concerned hand-wringing. It started with tons of people asking “Is there something wrong with Splatoon 3? Is it just going to be the same as Splatoon 2? Is Nintendo going to turn it into the next Call Of Duty?”, followed by the usual counter-content saying that everything would be fine and people were just silly for worrying. The whole mess felt manufactured and overly-dramatic to me, but such is life in the age of the 24-hour news cycle.

My initial thought was that a) we wouldn’t get a dedicated Splatoon direct at all, and b) we didn’t actually need a Splatoon Direct anyway. The Directs for the first two games focused mostly on the basics: What the game was, how to play different modes, what the shops in the plaza were, and so on. It made sense for Splatoon because the series was new, and it made sense for Splatoon 2 because nobody bought a Wii U and thus the game was still relatively unknown, but after selling over 111 million Switches and over 13 million copies of Splatoon 2, I didn’t think a Direct for S3 was necessary. We know what Inklings are (they’re Smash Bros. fighters, obviously), we know what this franchise is, and we know how the game works—do we really need another guided tour through the hat and shoe shops?

However, after seeing all the knee-jerk reactions online, I decided that we did need a Splatoon Direct, less for the information it contained and more to calm the frayed nerves of the community and assure folks that everything was going to be okay. (Given the state of pretty much everything in the world right now, people can be forgiven for wanting a little extra reassurance.) Finally, Nintendo announced a dedicated Splatoon 3 Direct earlier this week, and then dropped the video this morning (and apparently almost dropped it yesterday). So what did we get?

…Well, we got what the game was, how to play different modes, what the shops in the plaza were, and so on. What else did you expect? Still, there were enough new details, surprises, and quality-of-life upgrades to get the hype and analysis machines cranked back up for the franchise, so I’d say the presentation served its purpose. Let’s dig in!

You know you’ve been playing this game for too long when you watch the intro sequence and your first thought is “wait, did they increase the shot RNG of the Splattershot Jr.?”

The presentation started with the Turf War basics: Teams, objectives, ink traversal and consumption, etc. The new Squid Surge and Squid Roll movement options were shown off, but details remained a bit vague: For example, the surge seemed to take a moment to charge—does this happen every time, or can the user decide how long to hold it, and can you get bigger surges with longer charges? For the Squid Roll, when the announcer says it “slightly repels ink” while it’s glowing, exactly what does that mean? Are you fully invincible when you roll, or is damage just reduced and a powerful enough shot can still get you? (This would be a great way to make a niche for the Goo Tuber: Maybe a Splat Charger/Squiffer/E-Liter couldn’t one-shot through a Squid Roll, but a fully-charged Goo Tuber could.) Overall this section felt a little lackluster: Either we were told something we already knew, or we weren’t told enough about what we didn’t know.

As far as the announced stages, we only got a few glimpses of the new ones, so there isn’t a ton to say about them except that generally they look really large and fairly open. I’m curious to see how this impacts general gameplay: Splatoon 2 took a lot of heat for its special-spamming meta, and ProChara cited larger map sizes as a reason for why more specials were being deployed. Continuing the supersizing trend could lead to similar issues in S3, and while there are a ton of ways to balance special weapons besides map size, it remains a cause for concern. On the returning stage front, we got a number of confirmations for S1 maps that didn’t appear in S2: Museum D’Alfonsino we knew about, but Hammerhead Bridge and Mahi-Mahi Resort are coming back as well, and there was also a teaser for an unnamed stage coming post-launch…

Yeah, that’s definitely Flounder Heights, a stage I’ve been begging the Splatoon devs to bring back for years. (S2 maps Inkblot Art Academy, Sturgeon Shipyard, MakoMart, and Wahoo World were also confirmed as well.)

I can’t complain about anything I saw here: I was at least neutral on most of the returning maps, and the only one I truly detested (Hammerhead Bridge) appears to have been completely redesigned (the bridge is finally finished now!), so I’m curious to see how it plays. One thing I didn’t see, however, was Moray Towers, and I’m a little surprised about this given how popular that map was in S1. However, it seemed to lose its luster for a lot of people in S2, and if Flounder Heights is coming back to bring some verticality to the party, perhaps Moray will sit this game out.

In addition to all of the existing weapons classes, Splatoon 3 will feature two new weapon types from the start: “Stringers” (the bows we’ve been drooling over for over a year), and “Splatanas” (giant windshield wipers that have more range than brushes, but don’t seem to paint or move as well). While I’m sure these classes will shake up the game, I’m not all that interested in them personally: Stringers seem to play a lot like chargers (which means they require far more aim than I have), and Splatanas look like the sort of ZR-spam, RMI-causing weapons that I tend to avoid. That said, I just completed a “100 wins with 100 weapons” challenge in S2, and I know darn well I’m going to destroy myself trying to hit triple-digits with both the bows and the wipers. (It helps make the pain of Dustin Lynch reviews seem less severe in comparison.)

On the special weapon front, we’ve got a lot more returning S2 specials than I expected: Tenta Missiles, Inkjet, Ink Storm, Ultra Stamp, and the Booyah Bomb will all be coming back without any noticeable modifications (as opposed to the remixed S1 specials that were shown off such as the Tri-zooka and Killer Wait 5.1). The Tentacooler, which provides temporary stat boosts to any player who stops by the machine, likely means we won’t see Ink Armor make a return, and the Reefslider (which travels in a straight line to a specific area and then explodes) looks to be replacing Baller. Wave Breaker is a confusing one to me: It send out pulses that mark opponents and can even splat them is enough pulses connect, but I feel like Ink Storm kinda-sorta serves the same “clear out of an area or else” purpose, so are they distinct enough to convince people to try out both of them?

Sub weapons were never explicitly mentioned in the presentation, but we’ve seen most of them passing through this and other presentations. Splat Bombs, Suction Bombs, Splat Walls, Toxic Mist, and the new Angle Shooter were off in the Turf War video a while back, and Torpedos and Sprinklers made brief cameos during this presentation. I imagine some of the other bomb varieties from S2 will be coming back (Curling Bombs, Autobombs), but will have to wait and see.

The usual shops are back (hats, clothing, gear, and weapons) and a whole new set of proprietors are running them (Sheldon’s still here though; no one else wants his job). Gear abilities don’t appear to have changed too much (Bomb Resistance Up DX seems to have been replaced with a more-general Sub Resistance Up), but there’s a new Intensify Action ability which appears to provide a Quick Super Jump-like boost for the new Squid Surge/Roll abilities (although no footage was shown of a boosted Squid Roll). Murch from S2 has gotten a boost as well: He can replace gear main abilities as well as sub abilities, as well as apparently boost ‘star power’ for a weapon. Star power appears to be tied to weapon acquisition, as using weapons and gaining star power grants you ‘Sheldon Licenses’ which are then used to buy new weapons. I’m not sure how I feel about this (it seems like it makes getting new weapons more difficult and complicated), but we’ll have to see it in action to know for sure.

Remember all that speculation about apartments in S3? I’m sad to report that shrinkflation has hit the Splatlands…but happy to report that at least we now have lockers! Lockers are customizable areas that you can customize with items, gear, photos, and stickers, and there’s a new shop “Hotlantis” where you can pick up some of these items. You can also customize a “splashtag” that will display your name and title at the start and end of battle, and even set your victory animation!

…Okay, this one’s going to be divisive.

Seasonal in-game catalogs will be available to order special items/gear/moves/tags/etc., so make sure to get all the stuff you want before it’s gone!

All three ranked modes from S2 are now officially confirmed (*sigh* okay, Clam Blitz is here too), but the structure of Ranked Battles seems to have been changed. Now, solo queue appears to be split into ‘Anarchy Battles,’ where you can either play a best-of-five ‘series’ against other players or play ‘open’ battles that allow you to team up with friends. This raises so many questions: Is ‘open’ the unranked ranked mode I’ve been asking for? I recall ThatSRB2Dude a while back talking about how playing a series of battles would be a more-accurate ranking system—is series mode what he was talking about? (An ‘X Mode’ was also teased as a post-launch update—will this be an extension of the ranking system?) The one headscratching choice that I saw was that League Battles won’t be in the game to start, so this means that a) they’re hoping ‘open’ Anarchy Battles will serve the same purpose initially, or b) they’re just making a bad decision (league seems like a pretty important option to me…). Private Battles are back, but they appear to be unchanged from their S2 iteration, so I don’t know if lobby codes or any of the community’s other requested QoL upgrades are present.

There are, however, some really cool QoL upgrades that made it into the game, starting with the improved Test Range. Not only is it larger and it appears to have more-varied targets to splat, you can also enter the test range while waiting for matches to start, so you’re not stuck staring at a glorified loading screen for minutes on end. You can also form teams for Turf War battles, view replays of past battles (perfect for players who want to review their gameplay to improve), and at long last be able to skip the long news updates when you start up the game. Players that are new to the series won’t realize how privileged they are!

Gosh, I can’t wait to use my Diamond Dynasty cards in table turf battles! …Wait, that’s not how it works?

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what to say and Table Turf battles. It’s a new mode that appears to be a turn-based Turf War that plays out on a Tetris-like grid, where each player uses a custom deck of cards to claim spaces and out-paint their opponents. Is this supposed to be a full-blown competitive game mode like Salmon Run, or a neat little diversion like B n’ D in Bravely Default II? I guess only time will tell.

Salmon Run was mostly fleshed out in a prior presentation, but some big new pieces were revealed today, such as some new bosses (Slammin’ Lids, Big Shots), the arrival of King Salmonids (the Cohozuna was teased at the very end of the old SR trailer) which appear as extra ways at the end of some battles and can be defeated using normal methods or by launching Golden Eggs at them, and the announcement of Big Runs, where Salmonids invade the Splatlands and battles take places on standard ink battle maps. In other words, SR will be expanding a lot in S3, perhaps in recognition of the vibrant sub-community that has sprung up around it in S2. The big unanswered questions: Is it still going to be available only periodically and randomly, or can we play it anytime we want in S3? Here’s hoping for the latter…

Surprisingly, the single-player mode didn’t get a lot of screen time here, and few new details were revealed. You’re Agent 3 again as in S1, but what you’re doing and why you’re doing it remains a mystery for the moment. Callie, Marie, Original Agent 3, Captain Cuttlefish, and DJ Octavio all appear to be returning, and the brief video snippets indicate that some stage design inspiration has drawn from S2 Octo Expansion DLC levels. (The gear-loss cutscene also suggests you’ll be in a Metroid Prime situation to start, and will have to regain all your tools as your play through the mode.)

The end of the “official” trailer focused on features pertaining to the plaza and the NSO app. Most of this stuff is minor (custom art posts are back, SplatNet 3 appears to work about the same as SplatNet 2, amiibos give you gear and let you save certain loadouts), and the one potentially-interesting feature (Photo Mode) felt a bit underwhelming because there didn’t seem to be a way to pose for the picture (if Animal Crossing can do it, why can’t Splatoon?). Some new S3 amiibo were also announced…

…and while they look great, I never felt like amiibo had much utility in S2 as compared to S1, so it’s hard to justify buying them for the in-game functionality.

In terms of updates, the game is slated for free content updates like the catologs for at least two years, and apparently plans for “large-scale paid DLC” are in the works (silhouettes of Pearl and Marina were teased here, so they likely won’t be seen in the base game). Oh, and speaking of idols…

From left to right: Shiver, Big Man, and Frye.

Meet Deep Cut, the official hosts of Splatoon 3. They’ll be taking over for Pearl and Marina and announcing the current stages and modes (if you don’t skip them, that is). There are three of them this time, which means there’s a big change to the other mode they host…

This track is fire, and would probably make my year-end best single list if it were released to country radio.

That’s right, Splatfests are back! But with three idols comes three teams to choose from, and battles are now broken into two stages: A regular 1v1, 4v4 turf war, and a chaotic 4v2v2 Tri-Color Turf War where the winning team from the first stage has to hold on against both of the other teams. I have no idea how this is going to work, but a special pre-release Splatfest has been announced for August 27th, so I guess we’ll all find out together!

Okay…deep breaths…deep breaths…

So what did we really get from all this? While little we saw was really necessary and could have been left as a release-day surprise, I liked a lot of what I saw here, and bringing it all together in this sort of package amplified the hype levels and put Splatoon 3 front and center in the minds of both the Splatoon and wider Nintendo communities. Splatoon has felt stagnant for a while now, but Twitter and YouTube (and yes, even WordPress) are already starting to light up with reactions, analyses, and hot takes, and this train is going to keep building up steam until the game drops next month. People are finally excited for this franchise again, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

See you in the Splatlands!

Live A Live: Early Impressions

I have to say, this is a masterclass in how NOT to make a demo for a video game.

The Nintendo Switch has officially assumed the title as the console for folks who enjoy role-playing games (Bravely Default II, Octopath Traveler, Xenoblade Chronicles 1-3, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Miitopia, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, approximately 14 Dragon Quest titles, another 14 PokĂ©mon titles, etc.), and after wrapping up what might be the best of them all in Triangle Strategy, I was on the lookout for the console’s next great RPG. Enter Live A Live, an SNES-era game that had never gotten an official release outside of Japan, and was now being re-made using the same 2D-HD art style featured in Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy. Much like OT, Live A Live follows separate storylines for each character in the game (there are seven altogether), although this time they are spread out across the timeline rather than existing in the same era. The game promised interesting combat mechanics and unique scenario gimmicks, and I couldn’t resist taking a closer look.

The game appears to be only $50 compared to the usual $60 price tag (a surprising revelation given the current state of inflation), but for folks who prefer to try before they buy, a demo showcasing three of the LAL storylines was released on the Nintendo eShop, so I decided to give it a shot. What I found, however, was more akin to a current mainstream country song than a Square Enix RPG: A bland, uncompelling experience that made me less interested in the game rather than more. The most bizarre part was that this result didn’t really seem like the game’s fault—the three stories hinted at the deep motives and dark secrets within, but the bare-bones demo simply didn’t give them enough room to breathe, and it was over before the player could really engage with the tales, or even know what the heck was going on.

The three options presented by the demo were the Imperial China, Twilight of Edo Japan, and The Distant Future timelines. I chose to play Imperial China first, which was a mistake because it’s easily the worst-executed presentation of the three. You play the role as an aging martial arts master looking for disciples to pass down your skills, but this search boiled down to aimlessly wandering the map hoping to stumble onto something interesting. Such an exploratory approach might work if the map was worth exploring, but the areas available to you are small and linear, and the encounters with your eventual disciples felt a bit forced. Combat here is limited to a few canned battles and some wild animals in a sparsely-populated forest (all enemies are visible here, so there aren’t any random encounters), so you don’t really get a chance to mess about with the vaunted grid mechanics, and the area-of-effect of your attacks are so spread out and random that I was mostly focused on finding a spot on the board to land the attack at all than searching for the optimum launch point. Finally, there didn’t seem to be an overarching goal for the story, and right before your team starts training in earnest…the demo ends and you’re tossed back into the timeline select menu. The presentation never gave you a good reason to get invested in the story or the combat, and was a really disappointing way to start the game.

Next up was The Distant Future, where you play as a sentient bot brought to life by a crew member aboard a giant spaceship. This scenario was slightly better than Imperial China: We got some more characters and a few glimpses into their personalities, the map felt more open with more nooks and crannies to explore, and the story progression and ending cliffhanger did a much better job of drawing the player into the world. Outside of a video game within the game, however, combat was nonexistent here, and much of the map wasn’t really used in the demo and thus exploration (though encouraged by the other characters) was a pointless time-waster. In the end, there just wasn’t a lot to do here: You wandered around, you talked to some people, you watched a cutscene or two, and then it was over. There simply wasn’t enough here to get players to invest themselves in the game and see what happened next.

Finally, I tried out the Edo Japan storyline, and while it turned out to be the best of the three stories, it still didn’t live up to my expectations. In this scenario, you are a ninja trainee tasked with rescuing someone from an evil wannabe-ruler (who you rescue and why you rescue them are never explained), and have to make your way through the evil fiend’s compound. Here, you’re given a choice: You can use stealth to avoid all combat (you’re given a technique that immediately renders you invisible in the overworld), or you can strike down all who stand against you in your quest. (There’s also an interesting password mechanic that changes whenever a bell tolls, which would have been a neat challenge…if the game didn’t immediately tell you “Oh, I should say this now” every time Clarence got his wings.)The map is big and ripe for exploring (you can even traverse the rooftops!), but you don’t really gain anything from it: Items are sparse (and not useful for the stealth route), every NPC I encountered wanted your head on a pike (aside from a few looking for said password), and the conversations you eavesdropped on in passing rarely had any bearing on the story. Worst of all, you never even get the chance to complete the first objective: There are a few references to a locked storehouse door, but the moment you finally find the key, the demo ends. It’s as if the developers were covering for not telling you much about your mission by simply blocking you from completing it, and the abrupt ending left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Frankly, I have no idea why Square Enix released a demo for Live A Live in the first place. There might have been a good game here, but the company was too afraid to show it to us, and instead gave us a halfhearted, half-finished teaser that fails to explain why we should bother playing the full game. After enjoying the demos for Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy, I was surprised and disappointed to discover how bad this demo was, and with both Splatoon 3 and a really busy schedule on the horizon, I’m not interested in pursuing this avenue any further. If you’re interested in playing Live A Live, skip the demo and seek out reviews from outlets who’ve gotten to play the full game, because you won’t learn anything from the free trial.

I can’t tell you that Live A Live is worth buying, but I can say that this demo isn’t worth the nothing you pay for it.

What Can Splatoon Learn From MLB The Show?

I haven’t written about MLB Ths Show 22 that much on the blog, but if you’ve been following my Twitter feed, you’ve seen that I’ve been absolutely obsessed with the game for the last few months. As someone who’s played a lot of sports titles over the years, having baseball return to Nintendo hardware has been a dream come true, and I’ve been enjoying every minute of the game, even if my online record proves that I’m terrible at it (hey, hitting is hard!).

However, the game that has dominated my free time (and my blog) for the last few years in Splatoon 2, and it just so happens that we’re getting a new version of the true squid game this September. Back when Splatoon 2 was just a fever dream, I wrote a post on what the game could take away from the popular shooter Overwatch, and while Nintendo didn’t end up doing any of what I suggested, it was still an interesting thought exercise. Given the amount of time I’ve sunk into MLB The Show 22 that I would have otherwise thrown at Splatoon 2, is there anything here that could be “borrowed” from baseball to improve Splatoon 3?

Before you start screaming at your monitor: Yes, I’m fully aware that baseball and ink battles are two very different things. Splatoon games are short, fast-paced affairs with only four positions to fill per side, while baseball is much slower (a single Show match will run you 30-45 minutes), features a lot more specialized roles, and each player is unique is some way (some hit better, some run better, some field better, some have weird arm angles that mess with your opponent’s head). Splatoon isn’t going to learn a lot from baseball (in truth, baseball could probably take some lessons from Splatoon), but there are two things that The Show uses to drive player engagement that I think Splatoon could take advantage of: Moments/Missions and Programs.

  • Moments & Missions: In MLB The Show, players are presented with a list of situations in which they have to successfully perform some task (say, hit a home run with a certain player over the course of a game, or pitch an inning with a certain player while striking out two, not giving up a hit, and not using the letter ‘e’). These ‘Moments’ serve as a counterbalance to the game’s longer/slower modes, and are rolled out on a periodic basis (sometimes daily!) so that player always have something new to try.

In contrast, ‘Missions’ are goals that a player tries to reach in the process of playing regular games. For example, the game recently challenged players to earn 3,000 ‘parallel XP’ and hit 15 home runs with players on the Boston Red Sox, in honor of David Ortiz’s recent induction into the Hall of Fame. This incentivizes players to include different players in their lineups and gives them a taste of the strengths and weaknesses of each one (seriously, Ryan Brasier would never have gotten close to my bullpen otherwise).

So how would this work in Splatoon? I see a couple of ideas:

  • Moments: Back in Splatoon for the Wii U, using an amiibo would unlock special single-player challanges, forcing to to play through levels with different weapons or abilities. I think a Moment system in Splatoon 3 could work in a similar way: Pick a level (we’ll have three games and the octo expansion DLC to choose from), pick a weapon or ability, place some restrictions on the player if needed (limited time, limited ink, etc.), and let people bang their heads against it until they succeed.
  • Missions: These could be used to encourage players to try different options in Turf Wars or Ranke Battles. For example, the game could ask them to get 20,000 points with an Aerospray, or 10 splats using bombs, or 20 Ink Armor assists, or 30 splats while wearing Rockenberg gear! These could be time-limited or open-ended depending on the setup, and the goals could be tweaked so that players don’t reach them too quickly or too slowly. If rolled out over time, they could serve as a reason for players to keep playing the game and have them experiment to keep things fresh.

While Moments and Missions are one-off challenges, Programs are what motivate MLB The Show players to try them out by tying them all together. There are two types of Programs in the game (those that are time-limited, and those that are always available), and each ones comes with a stack of Mission, Moments, and other assorted things (card collections and exchanges, challenges in other game modes, etc.) that you can complete to earn points towards a certain goal (for example, in the Ortiz HOF program you can get a Diamond 99-rated Ortiz card for your lineup, which would look really nice inserted between your 95-rated Rafael Devers and 94-rated Jim Rice…) By offering cards, currency, and customization options for your trouble, Programs are what push players out of their comfort zones by trying to make it worth their while.

So how might a Program work in Splatoon 3? In truth, we’ve already got a Program-like system instituted for the Salmon Run game mode, where players progress through matches to earn special gear, gear ability chunks, and other assorted items. All we’d have to do in S3 is extend this concept to ink battles and sweeten the prize pools a bit. Given how much of a pain customizing gear is in Splatoon 2, Programs could alleviate some of this pain by making gear, ability chunks, and even Super Sea Snails more plentiful, especially for players who aren’t that into Salmon Run. If the apartments rumor turns out to be true, giving out items that could be used to decorate and customize said spaces would be a great addition as well.

Splatoon 2 has been a great game, but I think one of its shortcomings is that unless you’re really taken in by ink battles, there comes a point where it feels like you’ve inked and splatted it all, and once the special Splatfest events stop, it can be tough to convince yourself to keep playing. Having more ways to keep players engaged would go a long way towards making Splatoon 3 a more-fulfilling experience and perhaps keep a large community around for a longer period of time. These sorts of quick-win, goal-progressing experiences are something that MLB The Show really excels at, and I think incorporating a similar system more deeply into Splatoon 3 would help keep players interested and thus help keep the game relevant longer.

So You Want To Beat The Jet Squelcher…

I’ve talked a lot about individual metas, but across every topic and discipline, there’s one rule that always holds: Range rules, and whoever has it will carry the day.

Having the range and power to hit someone before they can hit you is a huge advantage, and Splatoon 2 ink battles are no exception. One of the three major weapon categories in the game is “anchor” or “backline” weapons, which basically means that you’ve got the range to engage your opponent from a long distance, helping you more-safely control territory and provide cover and support to your “slayer” and “support” teammates. In general, these weapons are slower and less effective and inking turf, but if used and positioned well, they can be an absolute nightmare to play against.

Not all anchor weapons are created equally, however, and over time a lot of players—and thus the meta—have drifted towards the lone shooter in the category: The Jet Squelcher. (Unlike many weapons in this series, the kit that you use doesn’t make that big of a difference: Both the vanilla and custom versions of the Jet Squelcher are popular, although the map and mode might influence which one you choose.) So how did this happen, and what can we do to counter such a threat if you meet one in battle?

Why Is The Jet Squelcher So Good?

The answer to this question can be broken into two parts:

Part I: Anchor Superiority. We’ve already established that if you can hit shots from the parking lot, it’s going to be really hard to defend against you no matter what you’re doing. In the case of Splatoon 2, range can help you in two ways:

  • You can engage opponents long before they can engage you.
  • Any territory you can reach is territory you can ink, so you can help with map control by covering territory that your shorter-range teammates can’t get to.

The Jet Squelcher not only has the most range of any shooter in the game, it’s one of the ten longest-ranged weapons in the game, and is outranged only by chargers, specialized splatlings, and the dynamo roller’s vertical swing. If that’s not enough for you, you can always use the Main Power Up (MPU) gear ability to add up to 8.5% more range to the weapon, as well as improve you shot accuracy when firing on the ground. With this kind of reach and map coverage at your disposal, you’ll begin any engagement with an opponent with a huge advantage.

However, simply engaging someone and actually taking them down are two very different things, and much like the Foil Squeezer, the Jet Squelcher is far from optimal as a slayer. With a ceiling of 32 damage per shot and a floor of 16 damage, the weapon is a four-hit kill at best and a seven-hit kill at worst, making it a less-than-reliable option for confirming kills. The squelcher is also decidedly mediocre in other offensive categories, as its fire rate (8 frames per shot when firing continuously) and ink consumption (1.6% of a tank per shot) pale in comparison to most other shooters.

So if the squelcher doesn’t compare well to other shooters, why is it so dang popular in the current meta? It’s because the weapon isn’t meant to replace other shooters, but instead to replace other anchor weapons, a class in which the squelcher compares much more favorably. You would never pick a Jet Squelcher to replace, say, a .52 Gal or Splash-o-matic, but you would absolutely use it to replace a Heavy Splatling or Splat Charger due to the squelcher’s improved versatility.

One of the great things about a shooter weapon is the speed and ease with which it can be used. In general, these weapons are quick to fire, quick to move, and quick to transition from firing to swimming and vice versa. This allows the player to be extremely flexible with their playstyle, and they can quickly react to events on the battlefield and either engage an opponent is close-range combat or reposition themselves to continue fighting at a distance.

In contrast, this sort of speed and versatility is not something you’ll find with other anchor weapons:

  • The most noticeable difference is that most anchor weapons require the weapon to be charged before firing, and while these charges can be stopped and fired prematurely, they won’t last as long or do as much damage when this occurs. While a Splat Charger takes 1 second (60 frames) to charge and Heavy Splatling takes 1.25 seconds (75 frames), the Jet Squelcher takes eleven frames to start shooting from squid/octo form and only three if you’re already in human form. This means that if you’re caught in a surprise attack and have suddenly have an opponent in your face, you can quickly return fire without having to wait around for your weapon.
  • The longest of the longest-range anchors (E-Liter 4K, Hydra Splatling) are considered heavyweight weapons, which means that they reduce your run speed by 8.3% and your swim speed by 10%. This means you’re either dealing with reduced speed while using the weapon or using a lot of gear ability slots on Run/Swim Speed Up to compensate.

Putting it all together, we find that the Jet Squelcher’s range allows it to provide long-range support as an anchor weapon without having to deal with the usual shortcomings of weapons in this class. The weapon can do most everything that a splatling or charger can do, while also being able to respond effectively in situations that would put other anchors in a real bind, regardless of whether that response is fight or flight.

Part II: Kit Synergy. Of course, there’s more than a weapon kit than the main weapon, and the second part of the Jet Squelcher’s strength is that both of its kits allow the weapon to respond to every kind of situation.

Let’s consider the three categories of opponents a squelcher might face:

  1. Opponents that the Jet Squelcher can reach but that can’t reach the Squelcher itself. This is the base case, and the main weapon can take care of them without much trouble.
  2. Opponents that the Jet Squelcher can reach, but who can also reach the Squelcher themselves. This means that the opponents have gotten close enough to the squelcher to exploit its weaker damage and slower fire rate. In this case, the squelcher would benefit from a bit more time and damage to take care of its foe, and its available sub weapons are more than up to the task. The vanilla Jet Squelcher can use Toxic Mist to slow the enemy’s advance (while also draining their ink tank) and make them an easier target, while the Custom Jet Squelcher’s Burst Bombs provide quick and easy chip damage to help take the opponent down (and their relatively cheap ink cost lets you throw two in quick succession with a full tank).
  3. Opponents outside the range of the Jet Squelcher. Just because the squelcher can’t reach an opponent doesn’t mean they can’t still threaten them. Both Squelcher kits contain infinite-range special weapons that can hit an opponent anywhere on the map: The vanilla Jet Squelcher’s Tenta Missiles can both locate and target multiple targets no matter where they’re hiding, while the Custom Jet Squelcher’s Stingray is a more focused weapon that can reach through walls to damage their target.

Special weapons are meant to be occasional attacks and have to be charged before use, but the Jet Squelcher is one of the best at farming for their specials, as they combine decent inking power with obscenely-low charging thresholds: The Custom Jet Squelcher’s Stingray can be quickly earned at 190 points, and the Jet Squelcher’s Tenta Missiles can be absolutely farmed at 180. Special weapon output is a major emphasis of the current meta, and the squelcher can spam their specials with the best of them.

In other words, the Jet Squelcher offers a way to deal with any opponent with any weapon in any situation: Short-range splooshes, long-range chargers, buckets on snipe, brellas in your court, in a box, with a fox, near, far, wherever you are…the Jet Squelcher and its various kits can deal with it all better than any anchor in the game.

Names obscured to protect the guilty.

So What Can We Do About It?

The Jet Squelcher offers a way to deal with any opponent with any weapon in any situation…but that doesn’t mean it offers a great way to deal with any situation. There are a few holes in the squelcher’s game that we can exploit with the approach, and it starts with our choice of main weapon:

  • Range: The Jet Squelcher outranges most of the weapons in the game, but not all of them, so a few chargers and splatlings have a window in which they can safely engage a squelcher without it being able to return fire. These weapons require a fair bit of skill and timing to use effectively, but if you’re good, you can dial the squelcher long distance without fear of a return call.
  • Power: So what do you do if you have to get in the squelcher’s face to take them down? It turns out that it’s not as hopeless an endeavor as you might think. With its variable damage and slow firing rate, it’s going to take a second for the squelcher to actually splat you, meaning that you’ll have the opportunity to make a move even if you step right into the squelcher’s line of fire. If you’re running a weapon that can KO in a single hit (squiffer, blaster) or potentially in two hits (MPU bamboozler, MPU splattershot pro), you’ll have a chance to get your shot off and splat the Jet Squelcher before it can splat you.

But what do you do if you don’t quite have the range or power that you need? This may be a job for…

  • Main Power Up: MPU offers different buffs for different weapons, but improved per-shot damage is a common buff for rollers, dualies, and even some shooters and splatlings, while E-liters (which already sport the best range in the game) gain a range buff. It’s generally not a massive boost unless you’re running a ton of Main Power Up on your gear, but it might be enough to make the difference between you KOing the squelcher or the squelcher KOing you.

Some other gear perks will come in handy as well:

  • Swim Speed Up/Ink Resistance: Just like with the Foil Squeezer, your best bet is to try to get in the Jet Squelcher’s face and force it to fight a sub-optimal melee battle, and just like the squeezer, the squelcher is going to use its range to take up strategic positions that make it really hard to get to it. That means you’re going to have very little time to close the gap and confront the squelcher, and you’ll likely have to go through contested territory to do it. Both of these abilities will be a big help here, as Swim Speed Up will let you traverse through your own ink quickly while Ink Resistance will let you pass through small traces of enemy ink without losing much speed or taking much damage. There’s an added bonus here: The Vanilla Jet Squelcher will likely use its Toxic Mist to slow you down even further, so every little bit of extra speed will count if you find yourself caught in the mist and needing to escape.
  • Bomb Defense Up DX: This is specific to the Custom Jet Squelcher, which will try to weaken you with its Burst Bombs before you can approach it. An unprotected opponent can be splatted via two direct Burst Bomb hits, but landing a “direct” hit with a Burst Bomb can be tricky, and while indirect hits will still take down an opponent eventually (indirects are broken down even further into “near” or “far” hits, depending on close it lands to the opponent), even a single sub of Bomb Defense Up DX will increase the number of indirect hits required (and if you equip enough of this ability, even the number of direct hits can be bumped up from two to three). Against the Custom Jet Squelcher, you’ll want to include two sub slots worth of Bomb Defense UP DX to give you improved protection against both near and far indirect bombs.

Now let’s consider the sub weapons we have at our disposal. In terms of the weapons we’ve covered so far, the Jet Squelcher falls somewhere in-between the Foil Squeezer and the Kensa .52 Gal. It’s not rooted to a specific spot the way the Kensa .52 is with its Splash Wall, but it’s not going to be moving around as much as the Foil Squeezer would. Squelchers are generally going to be seeking out specific spots on the map (usually higher ground) where they have clear sight lines to make the best use of their range, so if we can’t splat them, we want to at least move them off of their preferred spots.

With this mindset, we’re going to be targeting the position as much as we’re targeting the player, so in terms of the bombs in our arsenal, we’ll want to stick to the basics:

  • Splat/Suction Bombs: Splat Bombs will explode shortly after hitting the ground, while Suction Bombs trade a longer countdown timer for the ability to stick to whatever surface they contact first (floors, walls, ceilings). Other more-specialized bombs aren’t as useful in this scenario: Curling Bombs are hard-to-impossible to deploy on higher ground, Autobombs chase their target and thus can be lured away from a key position, Burst Bombs and Torpedos lack one-hit splat potential, and Fizzy Bombs bounce around too much to get KOs reliably.
  • Related Gear Ability: Sub Power Up. For most bombs, this increases its speed as it travels through the air, and thus increases the distance that it covers when thrown. This ability allows you to poke at a squelcher without having to get quite as close to it.

A Splash Wall can also come in handy against a Jet Squelcher, as it can provide you with some cover as you attempt to get close enough the engage the weapon directly.

Now, let’s talk special weapons. A Jet Squelcher might have infinite-range specials, but two can play at this game!

  • Tenta Missiles: When in Rome, do as the Romans do…and when in Inkopolis, spam Tenta Missiles until the trigger falls off your weapon. Tenta Missiles can hunt down a Jet Squelcher no matter where they are on the map, and the squelcher will either move to a less-advantageous position or be splatted where they stand. This can also distract the squelcher long enough for you to move in with your own main or sub weapon to finish them off.
  • Stingray: Stingrays are not as effective as slaying squelchers (the per-frame damage is low, the beam is narrow, and you can’t use your main or sub weapon until the special finishes), but they are very effective at distracting enemies and displacing them from their preferred spot, so it’s best used in tandem with a teammate who can go after the squelcher while it’s trying to dodge your ray.
  • Booyah Bomb: The Booyah Bomb doesn’t have infinite range, but it’s got enough for you to engage the Squelcher from a relatively-safe distance, and will displace your opponent at least as well as a Splat or Suction Bomb. Even if the bomb is activated up close, the Jet Squelcher’s iffy damage means that while you may technically be vulnerable while charging the bomb, you’ll get your shot off long before the Squelcher can break through the special’s armor. (However, if multiple opponents are nearby and can focus their fire on you, you’ll want to choose your charging spot more carefully.)

If you live in an area where coronavirus restrictions have been lifted and your boss demands that you do you work in-person, there’s an option for this as well:

  • Baller: The Baller encases your Inkling in a plastic hamster ball that can roll around on the map and eventually be detonated in an inky explosion (this happens automatically after about six seconds, but can be triggered earlier by the user). The ball can be broken without exploding if the opposing team does enough damage to it, but the user will be invulnerable until the Baller explodes or is broken.

Ballers present a big problem for the Jet Squelcher for the same reason that Charizards have trouble taking on Blastoises: Their attacks simply aren’t effective against it. Not only does the Jet Squelcher not do a ton of damage to start, but it’s been specifically nerfed to do even less damage to Baller shields, and while the Jet Squelcher still has a few more potential options than its custom counterpart (Toxic Mist will at least slow the Baller down, and Tenta Missiles got a damage buff to Ballers early in their lifespan while Stingrays have seen their Baller damage decrease as of late), these are slow stopgap measures at best, and the squelcher will have little choice but to abandon ship and stay as far away from the Baller as possible. (In truth, the map is usually the squelcher’s best friend against the Baller, as they can take up positions that are extremely hard for the Baller to reach.) The explosive hamster ball will give you a chance to get up close and personal with the opposing squelcher, and even after it explodes, you’ll likely be close enough to engage the squelcher with the rest of your kit.

  • Related Ability: Special Power Up. Oh, you say you want more power in your hamster ball? Try adding some Special Power Up to your gear, as it will increase both the durability of the ball against enemy damage and the size of the explosion once it detonates. Now that’s a spicy meatball!

The Jet Squelcher may conceivably have a plan for any situation, but as a famous pidgeon lover and ear biter once said, “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.” The key to success against a squelcher is to never give it a moment’s peace: Get in its face, flush it from the pocket, and everything in your toolbox to take it down. With the right approach and the right abilities, you can mount an effective defense against either squelcher and minimize its impact on the match.

What Weapons Are Best To Use?

So what weapons will give us the best chance for success against a Jet Squelcher? Ideally we want a weapon that can deliver a punch from a safe distance, but at the very least we want something that move in and KO the squelcher quickly while also providing some options for when moving in isn’t possible. Here are some weapons that fit the bill:

  1. Splatterscope. Truthfully, if chargers were easier to use, you’d never see a Jet Squelcher in competitive play ever again, because nearly every long-range charger (and even some of the shorter-range ones) outclasses the squelcher with its kit. The Splatterscope gets top billing here simply because it checks all the boxes: It outranges the squelcher by a sizeable margin, its one-hit KO power means that it doesn’t need much of a window to neutralize an opponent (squelcher or otherwise), it’s got Splat Bombs for poking at squelchers hiding behind cover, and it’s got Stingray for those moments when it says “F*** this, that squelcher doesn’t have to go home, but it ain’t staying there.” The scoped version of the charger adds some extra range in exchange for its near-field awareness, but in this case we’re probably not worried about the squelcher coming out of the booth and rushing us down. If you’ve got steady aim and ice water in your veins, no squelcher will stand against you with this thing in your hands. Also consider: Splat Charger, Firefin Splatterscope, Kensa Splatterscope, New Squiffer, Bamboozler 14 Mk I.
  2. Squeezer. The Foil Squeezer might have the stronger and more-meta kit on balance, but the regular Squeezer matches up a little better against the Jet Squelcher directly. Its range is not that much less than the squelcher (although its damage is just as unreliable), and it can easily close this gap with the help of its Splash Wall, giving it a barrier to afford it the time and space needed to do its job. If it finds that it just can’t get close enough to the squelcher to do its business, it can simply use its Stingray and conduct its business remotely. This kit may not outclass the Jet Squelcher the way that the Splatterscope does, but it’s got enough tools available to make things happen. Also consider: Foil Squeezer, Kensa Splattershot Pro.
  3. Kensa Splattershot. Both the Splatterscope and the burst-firing Squeezer require a lot of mechanical skill to use effectively, so if you find that your aim isn’t where it needs to be, the Kensa Splattershot can be a decent alternative. It’s going to need to get dangerously close to the squelcher to properly engage it, but with Suction Bombs and Tenta Missiles, it’s kit provides you with plenty of ways to distract your opponent while you close in to make your move, as well as enough power to make the move a successful one. It’s an easy weapon to pick up and play, so it’s not a bad place to start when you’re looking for a squelcher counter. Also consider: Slosher, .52 Gal, Splooch-o-matic 7.
  4. Foil Flingza Roller. Can a roller really be an effective counter to a squelcher? In the case of the Foil Flingza (which has become fairly meta itself lately), the answer is a solid “Yes.” The Flingza’s secret sauce is its impressive vertical flick: Its speed may be slow and its damage unreliable, but its long range stacks up fairly well against the squelcher (and is actually more than a burst-firing Squeezer). On top of this, its kit (Splat Bombs, farmable Tenta Missiles at 180 points) is incredibly effective for poking at squelchers and forcing them to move. It may seem like an unconvential choice at first, but this roller’s got more than enough power to make a squelcher’s life miserable. Also consider: Flingza Roller.
  5. Undercover Sorella Brella. Yes, I’m aware my Brella bias is showing, but hear me out. The USB kit actually matches up pretty well against the jet squelcher, and it starts with the main weapon: While the Brella is even slower and less reliable at slaying than the squelcher, its shield gives it additional time to land enough shots to KO its opponent, and neither squelcher kit has an effective counter to it (the main weapon takes a while to chew through the shield, and unlike other weapons Burst Bombs can’t destroy it in one hit). Splat Bombs allow you to bother the squelcher from a distance, while Baller gives you a quick and easy way to get in the squelcher’s grill and disrupt their gameplan. More people need to be paying attention to the USB, and its effectiveness against the Jet Squelcher is a good reason why. Also consider: Bloblobber, Kensa Splat Dualies, Glooga Dualies Deco.


The Jet Squelcher’s fusion of anchor range with shooter versatility makes it one of the most popular and powerful weapons in the Splatoon 2 competitive scene. With its ability to engage and neutralize opponents at any distance, the Jet Squelcher gives a player a viable path forward no matter the time, place, or odds. However, the weapons still has some blind spots, and with the right tools and the proper preparation, you have the chance to defy the meta, defeat the squelcher, and earn a well-deserved victory.

Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes: Early Impressions

Image from Digital Trends.

Did we necessarily need more Fire Emblem: Three Houses content? Probably not. Am I glad we got it anyway? Well, I’ll answer that the only way I know how.

Indeed, it is.

Granted, one could either see Fire Emblem: Three Hopes as just that – an extension to the base tactical RPG game. Or they might see it as the next entry in Omega Force’s hack-and-slash-focused Warriors series. Either way, you start by controlling a mercenary that has the ability communicate with a spiritual entity and somehow runs into three house lords … and OK, this is starting to sound familiar.

So, then, what the heck is Three Hopes? In a nutshell, it’s an alternative retelling of Three Houses, where instead of the stoic Byleth character running into Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude, we’re introduced to Shez, who, thanks to … well, reasons, encounters the three house lords first. And the events that unfold afterward are emblematic of the butterfly effect (Byleth is still involved, however). As far as the story is concerned, it’s the same kind of different – the three houses go from being classmates to fighting each other in a big ol’ war – but there have been plenty of interesting twists along the way thus far to keep things exciting and fresh, too, speaking as someone who’s played every Three Houses route twice and probably needs to get out more.

Granted, this is, at the end of the day, a Warriors game, meaning that instead of fighting your battles on a grid-based battlefield and being methodical with your choices, you’re thrown into the same hack-and-slash frenzy that’s characterized every Warriors game thus far (and, in truth, probably depicts the actual Fire Emblem battles better than the slower-paced affairs of the base game). It’s crazy, it’s frantic … it’s just plain fun. Like the base game, you pick a house to ally yourself with (I picked the Black Eagle house in honor of Billy Kametz’s recent passing, who voiced “I am Ferdinand von Aegir”), and pick your fighting roster from the students you get (Indeed, Bernadetta, it is so your time to shine).

And despite a slow start with the onslaught of tutorials thrown at you, if you’re familiar with typical Fire Emblem conventions, it’s an easy game to process. On one hand, this gives this particular Warriors title a more distinctive feel compared to past games, especially when, speaking as someone who’s only other experience with the franchise is Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, everything feels streamlined to make things more efficient as far as battle preparations and planning are concerned. On the other hand, this also feels like a game to pick up only if you’re either A.) familiar with typical Fire Emblem conventions (if you know to use your archers against flying units, for example, you’ll likely be fine), or, and perhaps more importantly, B.) acquainted with the base game this draws inspiration from, because I wouldn’t call it a beginner-friendly entry from a plot standpoint.

The Black Eagle house features Linhardt, Bernadetta, and Ferdinand, so it’s impossible to be disappointed.

For those familiar with that game, however, this is an absolute treat of a time, blending that aforementioned frenzied gameplay with the same team-building aspects that characterized Three Houses. You won’t spend much time at Garreg Mach Monastery this time around, but you will bond with your team over the course of the game the same way you did before, and it’s that little feeling of every activity contributing to some sort of in-game progress that keeps this game easy to return to and meaningful when that hard work pays off on the battlefield. Unlike the base game, you won’t send every unit into battle – even recruitment of other units this time around works much differently and is more difficult to pull off – so it’s important to strengthen the units you feel are best … but also important not to let your other fighters fall behind either. Like Fire Emblem proper, the key to success is balance, ensuring that you’ve got a well-rounded team able to overcome basically any opponent, especially if you’re playing with permadeath on – a tried-and-true component of Fire Emblem games that carries over here and one I’m too chicken to actually use.

The combat isn’t too complex compared to other Warriors entries – you have to mash those Y and X buttons to pull off various combinations just like before and press the B button at just the right time to dodge an opponent’s onslaught. And chances are your one fighter is somehow going to blow away 100 opponents in front of them and send them flying (chances are Petra is just going to destroy everything in her path). But like with the base game, the treat here is the ability to customize your units. I absolutely love the quick optimization system that automatically outfits your units in a way the game feels is best for them (I don’t know why my game thinks Bernadetta would do better with Iron Gauntlets over her usual Bow, but hey). And because it’s Fire Emblem, there’s a wide variety of classes to fit your units into and weapons to use that will determine your various advantages and disadvantages on the battlefield. It’s a great streamlined system that I think would even benefit the base games moving forward.

Basically, it’s a big game with a ton of variety thrown in to ensure that there’s way to play for everyone. With each chapter, you’ll encounter a pretty familiar formula reminiscent of Three Houses. You’ll have your big mission to tackle to complete the chapter that will inevitably ask a lot of you and your team, but in between you’ll take place in smaller battles that will allow you to properly gauge your team’s progress, with a rewards system in place designed to offer more depending on how you fare and how far you want to go (for example, every battle will have its main objectives, but if you come across a side objective, chances are it’s worth your while to take a detour and complete it). I’m glad that, thus far, this isn’t as grind-heavy of an experience as Hyrule Warriors tended to get after some time, as it encourages players to push further in a way that feels fair and rewarding, rather than repetitive.

At the end of the day, though, Fire Emblem: Three Hopes may not be the Fire Emblem title players should jump into for their first time, but if this is your first experience with a Warriors game, you really can’t pick a better starting point than this. It’s an adrenaline rush of an experience that will nevertheless bring you back down to Earth by reminding you of the actual stakes behind your choices made and why you’re fighting in the first place. Like Kyle said when he reviewed Three Houses, the biggest compliment I can give this game is that it was hard to pull myself away from the action long enough to write this short impressions post. Again, it’s a big game with a lot to take in, but it’s worth the effort and time to really sink your teeth into – if you’re even remotely a fan of either franchise, you likely won’t be disappointed.

In Defense Of The Easy Button: Why I Enjoy Lower Difficulties In Games

The TL;DR version of this post: It’s not whether you win or lose—it’s how you play the game.

If it’s not obvious from the thousands of hours I’ve sunk into Splatoon 2 (and the array of content I’ve gotten out of it), I’m a pretty competitive person. I enjoy working with and against other people to overcome challenges of all sorts, and video games provide a low-stakes, easily-repeatable environment for this sort of behavior. You can experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, and you can do it all again in a few minutes without ever leaving your couch.

As time goes on and you begin to master the game’s mechanics, the natural progression is to seek out stronger competition and higher levels of difficulty (especially in online multiplayer games). Opponents become harder, better, faster, and stronger, and it’s up to you to find ways to triumph over them. At you move up the ranks, however, some cold hard truths become clear: There are things that work, and then there are things that work, and if you use the former things instead of the latter, you don’t win. Thus, the dreaded “meta” is born.

For folks that aren’t familiar with the term, you can think of “meta” as an acronym, even though it’s technically not one: The “most effective tactics available.” It’s most often used in a gaming context, where certain players/items/weapons/strategies/etc. are better at achieving their objectives than others, and thus said players/items/weapons/strategies/etc. are all you see at the most-competitive levels of play. However, metas can appear in other contexts as well. For example, how many times have you heard me complain about the bland guitar-and-drum mixes and “country” buzzwords that seem to pop up in every song I review? There’s a reason these sounds and subjects are everywhere: They are (or at least are perceived to be) the most effective ways of getting onto the airwaves or earning prime playlist placement on streaming platforms, and thus artists (A-listers, up-and-comers, and everyone in between) adapt these methods to give themselves the best chance to be successful.

(A darker example: Why do you think Bernie Sanders is always complaining about the Citizens United court decision? Because it was the buff that made big money—and especially anonymous “dark money”—the meta in our politics, and anyone who wanted had to play the same slimy game.)

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a meta, and if a game is sufficiently difficult and/or competitive, it’s inevitable that some sort of meta will emerge from the community. However, when a meta emerges and becomes widespread, it tends to make the scene feel stale and even boring (again, how many 5/10s have I handed out this year in my reviews?). Every competitor and competition becomes indistinguishable, and everyone involved in the scene is forced to make a choice: Conform, or die. Outside-the-box thinking is discouraged, and ideas are judged solely on their current viability.

This is why when it comes to gaming, rather than cranking up the difficulty to Extra-Ultra-Impossible and immediately diving into the toughest possible modes, I will often stick with lower difficulty modes and avoid options (such as permadeath) intended to add to the challenge. Why? Because I prefer to explore the problem space, mess around with everything in my toolbox, and discover everything the game has to offer.

For people who measure themselves by the size of their…difficulty settings, this might be a controversial take. But “true gamers” always do things the hard way, maximizing their pain to maximize their glory! Setting aside the baggage of the “true gamer” label for a moment, I would counter that there are other ways to make a game challenging than giving bosses more health and more damage. Rather than being locked into a playstyle that must be followed to the letter to win, I prefer a game that offers multiple paths to victory, and gives the player the freedom to find success however they want.

For example, consider the PokĂ©mon franchise. In Sword and Shield, the current champion (Leon) uses PokĂ©mon that max out at Level 65 (the same level cap, coincedentally, that Blue had in PokĂ©mon Red/Blue). With over 900 PokĂ©mon in the franchise (so many that the latest games don’t actually support all of them), the truth is that some monsters are more powerful than others (in some cases, a lot more powerful). However, with a level cap that’s fairly low compared to the maximum (100), it means that nearly any monster can win against the Champion as long as it’s gotten enough experience. This, in turn, opens up the playbook for players that wander off the beaten path: What happens if I use monster X instead of Y? What if I include certain PokĂ©mon types over others? What happens if I try this move, or this entire moveset? While not everything is going to work (a team of Harden-only Metapods probably isn’t going anywhere), the options for putting together a team are almost boundless, and no matter what your favorite monsters are, you can probably make them work. You can play (and succeed) on your terms rather than someone else’s, which makes the game much more fun.

“But what about multiplayer games?” I hear you ask. These can be a good example as well, especially given the sheer amount of options they provide (seriously, every franchise known to humanity has crossed over with Fortnite by now). For all my time with Splatoon 2, the vast majority of that time has been spent in Turf War, the unranked (and thus the least competitive) mode in the game. Sure, I’ve earned X ranks in all of the ranked modes, but I much prefer messing around with off-the wall weapon and gear combinations in Turf War to try to make them work. Sometimes the focus is on optimizing a specific item (for example, what gear works best with a Dynamo Roller?), but the key is that you have the freedom to play however you want, and while success isn’t guaranteed, it tends to arrive eventually (the matchmaking in the game can be head-scratching at times, and teams can end up imbalanced as heck). There are 139 weapons in the game (and even more gear options), and finding ways to make them all work is half the fun!

The two games I’ve best obsessed with lately are Triangle Strategy and MLB The Show 22, which both fall into this discussion by virtue of the sheer size of their rosters (30 playable characters in TS, and thousands of ballplayers both past and present in The Show). Sure, you can lean on Frederica and Shohei Ohtani if you want, but what about everyone else? Can you win a major battle with Giovanna Koppel, or build a lineup around Luke Maile? What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how can you use them to attain victory? Where are the hidden synergies and strategies that these characters give you? (Fun fact: If you stick catcher-by-trade Maile in the outfield, you can get people out on the bases by baiting them into running with his terrible throws that the fundamentally-sound AI always backs up.) You don’t need a super-tough boss to make a game rewarding, you just need the freedom to experiment and try “suboptimal” strategies to see what happens.

(Editor’s Note: In the end, Mills was too good for his own good, and the developers nerfed him into a relief pitcher in the latest update.)

I’m not saying we should get rid of difficulty settings entirely (in truth, it’s just another knob that curious player can fiddle with). I’m just saying that there’s nothing wrong with not using them to turn everything into a teeth-gnashing challenge. There are many ways to make a game interesting, and while difficulty is the one we often default to using, we can also step back and investigate all of the tools at our disposal, even if some of them don’t appear to be the best fit at first glance. Who knows, you might stumble onto an idea that becomes the foundation for a whole new meta!

Regardless of how you choose to play, at the end of the day games are supposed to be fun, and how we find the fun in them is up to us.